Biden pledges to be ‘more mindful about respecting personal space’

Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to be more mindful of women’s personal space as he sought to stem a growing political crisis around his presidential campaign-in-waiting.

In a two-minute video, the former vice president responded to allegations from four women who said he made them uncomfortable by touching them inappropriately at public events.

{mosads}Biden did not directly apologize to his accusers in the video, but he acknowledged that times have changed and that he would adjust his behavior.

“Social norms have begun to change, they’ve shifted, and the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset, and I get it,” Biden said in the video. “I hear what they’re saying. I understand it. I’ll be much more mindful. That’s my responsibility, and I’ll meet it.”

Still, Biden defended his actions as innocent, saying his displays of public affection are how he connects with people. He said he acted the same with men and women.

“I’ve found that scores, if not hundreds of people, have come up to me and reached out for solace or comfort, something, anything that might help them get through the tragedy they’re going through, and so it’s just who I am,” Biden said.

“And I’ve never thought of politics as cold or antiseptic, I’ve always thought about it as connecting with people, shaking hands, a hand on the shoulder, a hug or encouragement.”

Four women have come forward over the past week to say that the former vice president’s public touching made them deeply uncomfortable. One of the women was 19 years old when she says she tried to squirm away after Biden rested his hand on her thigh and hugged her “just a little bit too long” at an event on sexual assault.

{mosads}Biden issued a statement after the first allegations came to light, saying it was not his “intent” to make anyone uncomfortable. His remarks were dismissed by some as tone-deaf.

Some prominent Democratic women, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski, have come to Biden’s defense, warning that Democrats risk tearing down a candidate who many believe has the best shot at defeating President Trump.

They said Biden’s propensity for public affection is innocent and characteristic of his authenticity.

The former vice president is expected to officially launch his campaign after Easter, and the two-minute video included language that would seem to make his entry inevitable.

“In the coming month I expect to be talking to you about a whole lot of issues, and I’ll always be direct with you,” he said.

But the drip of allegations has threatened to derail his candidacy before it ever gets off the ground, and Biden is clearly hoping that Wednesday’s video allows him to move forward.

There are no signs that Biden’s donors or core supporters are fleeing his campaign. Joseph Falk, a top bundler for the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012, said he’s all in for Biden in 2020.

“I am a Biden loyalist. I will support him,” Falk said. “I have had many interactions with him and welcomed his caring and empathetic approach.”

Some Democrats reached by The Hill following the release of the video described it as “sincere” and predicted it would put the controversy behind Biden.

Still, others predicted the allegations would dog him throughout the race, potentially giving political ammunition to those on the left advocating for a more progressive candidate.

“Why not apologize?,” said Shaunna Thomas, the cofounder and Executive Director of the women’s rights group UltraViolet.

The 2020 Democratic contenders are being asked about the controversy at every turn. None of them have called the allegations disqualifying, but they’re also not absolving Biden of guilt.

“I think we need to listen to those who are raising their stories, who have the courage to come forward … to be part of the conversation about either his candidacy or how he fares as a contender for the nomination,” said former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), a top Democratic contender.

Biden, who has strong union support, will address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Washington, D.C., on Friday, while many of his rivals are in New York addressing the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Meanwhile, Trump and his GOP allies, who view Biden as a top threat to the president’s reelection efforts, are also seizing on the controversy to batter Biden while he’s down.

A top pro-Trump super PAC released a digital ad this week called “Creepy Joe,” which features children watching images of Biden touching women. The group says it will run the ad on television once Biden gets into the race.

“I’ll always believe, governing, and life for that matter, is about connecting with people, that won’t change,” Biden said Wednesday.

“But I’ll be more mindful and respectful of people’s space, and that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. I worked my whole life to empower women, I’ve worked my whole life to prevent abuse, and so the idea that I can’t adjust to the fact that personal space is important, more important than it’s ever been, is just unthinkable. I will. I will.”

Tags Dianne Feinstein Donald Trump Joe Biden
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